Reflecting on 2021: Lessons learned by our PollEvians

The year 2021 was an ambitious and insightful experience for us at Poll Everywhere. We launched our largest product redesign with the new Navigation and Folders, created seamless integrations on Microsoft Teams and Webex, and grew our teams exponentially with a record-setting recruitment year for our People Operations team. In 2022, our teams will be scaling up capabilities, refreshing our brand, and managing a transition to becoming a remote-first company.

As the company reflected on the past year, we gathered team leads from each department to share their thoughts on what happened in 2021, what challenges they faced, and what lessons they will carry into 2022.

Difference between 2020 and 2021

“2020 was the problem solving year, and 2021 is where we know what the problems are and can go back to doing our jobs.” – Tyler Snellings, Vice President of Finance. 

The most common answer amongst all of our department heads is acknowledging how different 2020 was compared to 2021. Tyler Snellings, Vice President of Finance, puts it simply: “2020 was the problem solving year, and 2021 is where we know what the problems are and can go back to doing our jobs.”

Matthew Cooper, Sales Manager, adds, “2021 was the year of adjustment; we were winging it in 2020. In 2021 we are taking a deeper look at our strategies and being more deliberate with our planning.”

Business Analytics and Engineering Manager, Cory Buecker, explained that 2021 was more about “settling in and finding tools that fill the gaps when everyone is remote and finding a rhythm.”

“In 2020, everyone was experiencing the same thing (remote work) but this year, everyone’s approach to work was different.” – Abby Stiris, Product Marketing Manager. 

While many summarized 2021 as an overall “easier” year, a few identified unique challenges they faced in their areas of expertise. Matt Diebolt, Vice President of Engineering, felt that 2021 was a more challenging year than 2020 due to the Great Resignation. Abby Stiris, Product Marketing Manager, explained that the shifting workplace in 2021 created difficulties in her role. “In 2020, everyone was experiencing the same thing (remote work) but this year, everyone’s approach to work was different.” Customers were all on different boats, and as a Product Marketing Manager, Stiris explained that she had to ask more questions to figure out what customers were actually doing.

Changing the way we communicate internally

“How do you make (remote) onboarding engaging, inclusive, and make them feel welcomed?” – Matthew Cooper, Sales Manager. 

One of the biggest challenges of remote and hybrid work is communication. Despite the fact that Poll Everywhere was a hybrid company before the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams still had to adjust to the new communication styles and find tools to communicate effectively. Brian Goodman, Director of Product, shared that his team had to adjust how they worked, particularly surrounding the Design team’s inability to conduct in-person whiteboard sessions. Goodman says, “Your product will reflect in your team’s communication style. If your communication changes, everything changes and it will sneak up on you. We are now very deliberate about our communication to reinforce how we want our product to act.”

Cooper explains his team has onboarded many new members and experienced challenges in remote onboarding, citing “How do you make onboarding engaging, inclusive, and make them feel welcomed?” While he enjoys remote work, Cooper said it will never be the same as sitting next to someone and learning by watching.

But what are the solutions to these communication challenges? Natalia Alquati, Manager of the Customer Success team, said her team adopted new tools like Asana for increased visibility and tracking on workflows. Marketing Operations Manager Michael Honhongva said he witnessed more people “using Slack Huddle and video conferencing more casually,” creating an open space for conversation that recreates the feeling of being in an office. Customer Support Manager Shelley Burrell said her team focused on more training and documentation of their internal processes to improve communication.

The new way to engage with customers

Internal communication was a major challenge, but what about external communication with customers? On a macro level, Cooper said our customers are exploring building a core communication stack with video conferencing software, instant messaging platforms, and polling. Companies are now looking for a long term strategic plan for remote work and solidifying this communication stack will help with remote team management.

Marketing Communications Manager Sarah Loduha says marketers must adapt and figure out how remote work will affect traditional marketing. “What does home marketing look like? Radio? What touch points are changing?” Both Stiris and Demand Generation Manager Michael Brookhart say that there needs to be an investment into creating “virtual experiences” over stagnate events like webinars. In the age of video recordings, there is no desire to attend an event unless there is a live engagement element that makes it worth their time.

Brookhart also says that video calls are being utilized more frequently in prospecting and discovery calls with sales leads. No offices means no more office phones, and even in industries where technology like video conferencing is less prevalent, there will be a large adoption of this software.

Lessons learned from 2021

With all that being said, what has the Poll Everywhere team learned from 2021?

1. Lead with intentionality

As we reflected, the biggest theme was intentionality: intentionality in how we communicate, how we grow our teams, and how and where we do our work. We aren’t putting out fires like we did in 2020 and 2021 was an optimal time to experiment with what works. Now that we know what does work, our team is dedicated to finding the balance between investing in our own ability to scale while maintaining what we have built.

2. Invest strategically and deliberately

As we look to the future, Poll Everywhere is ready to strategically allocate dollars and human capital across all touchpoints in the company. Snellings is excited to invest in quality remote-first tools as we say goodbye to our San Francisco headquarters office. Diebolt is looking to recruit people earlier in their careers and invest in developing and training them.

3. Inclusivity comes first

Engineering Manager, Integrations Mateo Williford says 2021 was a time for utilizing new communication tools to be more inclusive. He believes now more than ever, it is important to be intentional about including all voices, gathering necessary opinions, and making sure no one is left out.

Intentionality behind inclusion work will also be a major theme in 2022. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work will become a norm in the workplace. At Poll Everywhere, we’ve already begun investing in our DEI work, from hiring a DEI and People Ops Specialist, investing in our internal task force, maintaining our anti-racism product donation program, and more.

4. Set healthy boundaries as a team

People Operations Manager Kimberly Harris said she learned “how to set better boundaries as a team…and learned about shared responsibility.” All of Poll Everywhere’s team leads agreed that  prioritizing work-life balance was a major lesson learned in 2021.

2021 was another whirlwind year in what feels like a continuous stream of unprecedented times. Instead of being reactionary, take time in the beginning of 2022 to reflect and begin planning strategically for the rest of the year. Here at Poll Everywhere, reflecting helped us understand what we value going into 2022, both as individuals and as an organization. Do you resonate with our reflections? We’re curious to hear from you – let us know your 2021 lessons by engaging with us on Twitter (@PollEverywhere) or LinkedIn.